Duty of care update

A recent case in the High Court sheds light on two areas that have frequently exercised our university and college clients in the past, namely:
  • To what extent is an institution liable for the acts and omissions of its Students’ Union;
             and
  • The extent and limits of an institution’s duty of care to its students.
The claim was brought against Rose Bruford College by a former student, Andrew Risk, for serious injuries he sustained during an ‘Events Day’ to celebrate the final day of the summer term. The Events Day was organised by a committee of the College’s Students’ Union, and the College took no part in the organisation of the event other than permitting it to take place on the College campus. Mr Risk was a member of the organising committee and was, in fact, one of the people responsible for health and safety at the event. 
Mr Risk was injured when he ran and jumped into an inflatable pool (which he had filled with water) and landed awkwardly on his head. He brought a claim under the Occupiers’ Liability Act and at common law, alleging that the College owed him a duty of care to take appropriate steps to prevent him from injuring himself, including carrying out risk assessments and ensuring proper supervision by the pool. He argued that the duty arose as a result of the College-student relationship, or, alternatively, that the College had assumed responsibility because it had knowledge of similar incidents in the past.
The court found that it was the Students’ Union which was responsible for arranging the event and which should have discharged its responsibilities under the College’s health and safety policy.  Mr Risk could not establish that the College owed him a duty of care, nor had there been any assumption of responsibility on the part of the College because it did not actively participate in the arrangements for the day. Further, Mr Risk was of full age and capacity and exercised an informed choice about whether to jump into the pool. By doing so he created an obvious and serious risk that would not otherwise have existed i.e. the risk was not a foreseeable one.
The court went on to state that, even if there had been a duty of care owed by the College, this was only to supervise the Students’ Union i.e. to take reasonable steps to ensure that proper risk assessments were carried out and that a system was in place for supervision of the pool. Any risk assessment would not have covered the risk of someone jumping into the pool in that way, nor would any control measures have prevented it, and therefore causation could not be established.
The court therefore rejected Mr Risk’s claim. 

Joanna Forbes
Senior Associate Solicitor
Education Team
DD: 0800 763 1310
M: 07725 241552
F: 0800 763 1710
International DD: +44 870 763 1310
E: joanna.forbes@sghmartineau.com
W: www.sghmartineau.com

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